Many aspects of rigid masculinity – such as not showing emotions – are harmful to men, as well as the people around them (even if aspects of the old school ‘Viking mindset‘ can be useful if channeled correctly). It’s part of the ongoing debate about cultural norms in our society and is often quite a prickly topic.
While there’s nothing wrong with trying to be self-reliant, a recent Australian study has revealed how even in 2020, typical male attitudes might be obscuring or setting back men’s health.
New research released earlier this week from WW (formerly Weight Watchers) delves into how Aussies currently perceive their wellness, the health challenges they face and their approach to reaching their goals following months of lockdowns and uncertainty.
Not only are their findings reveal how a surprising proportion of Australians are in denial about their health, but how men are significantly worse offenders when it comes to this than women.
On average, people gave themselves an overall health score of 67.5%, including 70% rating for nutrition and 62% for fitness, despite the fact that government statistics report that two thirds (67%) of Australian adults are overweight or obese. On top of that, Australians gave themselves a rating of 74% for their mental health, despite many reports and anecdotal evidence suggesting Aussies are struggling more than ever with their mental health. 2 in 5 (38%) say they’ve placed increased importance on their mental health since March, which is also far less than you might predict.
On top of this, men are more likely than women to rate their overall mental health as excellent (26% compared to 16%), despite the fact that the suicide rate is three times higher for men than it is for women in Australia. Fitness is a similar story: men are more likely to rate theirs as either good or excellent (45% compared to 36%) – not to mention that they believe they are getting better sleep, rating their overall sleeping habits an average of 3.34 out of 5, which is significantly higher than women (3.17 out of 5, on average).
One intriguing finding was the difference between men and women when it comes to ‘falling off the bandwagon’: men are more likely than women to say that working long hours is most likely to cause them to break their healthy habits (37% compared to 31%), whereas women are more likely to say that feeling stressed or anxious in life has more of an effect (57% in women compared to 42% in men).
DMARGE spoke to registered psychologist Jacqui Manning, who suggests that a fundamental difference in how men and women perceive routine.
“Men are more concrete in their thinking and appreciate routine so if longer hours are preventing them from achieving the health goals they’ve set out to do, it can scramble said routine and mean they may not follow through. Women, on the other hand, are commonly used to juggling many tasks – for example, work, parenting and household management – so if they are going to achieve their health goals it often has to be done ‘on the run’, not when there’s [a] specific time set aside for it.”
Manning suggests that another contributing factor to this difference is that “men often like to do their tasks and problem-solving solo, which means there’s less accountability to a ‘buddy’ or a group, whereas women prefer to discuss their health goals with friends which helps keep them on track, as they talk about their eating habits or choose to exercise together.”
How Get Out Of The Denial Trap
While these stats are shocking, 2020’s not over yet – we’ve still got plenty of time to make a change.
“COVID has brought pressures upon all of us as we have had to deal with uncertainty and a changing landscape of rules,” Manning commiserates.
“For many, this has intensified anxiety and underlying existing issues and unhappiness, but it has provided an unparalleled opportunity to slow down and listen to what those issues are trying to tell us. We stepped off the hamster wheel for a bit and it has helped us see more clearly what is most important to us without the normal distractions of life taking over, including prioritising our health. COVID is here for the foreseeable future with all the uncertainty and changes it may bring, so it’s more important than ever to be aware of how our mental health is faring and to reach out for support if we feel like we are struggling.”
This is particularly important as we head back to work or the job hunt – to make sure we don’t get burnt out after months of disrupted routine. For both men and women, making sure you’ve got a good work/life balance is crucial to good physical and mental health, Manning explains.
“Know your boundaries and set aside time where you are switched off from work. I recommend putting your phone/device on ‘do not disturb’ for scheduled chunks of time and prioritising what’s important to you such as time with friends and family, your health and fitness or a hobby.”
This is especially important for those still working from home, as the lines between personal and professional spaces and time can get easily blurred – which is particularly deleterious for your mental and physical wellbeing.
“During your workday, don’t skimp on lunch breaks and if you can, get outside for small breaks. You don’t have to wait until your next holiday or the weekend to spend time looking at nature, even if it means looking up at the sky, at a pot plant or out the window at a tree, studies have shown the beneficial effect on our mood happens even in these small-scale nature breaks.”
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“Trying to achieve work-life balance can be a tricky task,” Manning relates.
“[But] we are not built biologically to work, think and be productive 24/7, and it’s unfortunate we’ve lived in a toxic culture that seems to value this. Slowing down during COVID has helped many see that the way we lived life before lockdown was out of balance. For your long-term physical, emotional and mental wellbeing take breaks that consist of doing something you enjoy, or simply nothing.”
Taking short, regular breaks is crucial to sticking towards your goals – it’s easy to get overwhelmed. ‘All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy’ and all that.
“Start small. People often set goals that are unrealistic and too big to achieve and can lose their motivation because they haven’t been able to complete what they set out to do. For example, It’s better to set a 10-15 minute exercise goal and accomplish that, rather than set your goal on an hour’s workout and not being able to fit it into your busy schedule. This creates a ‘yes’ energy, giving you forward momentum to keep on track.”
In short, don’t let yourself fall into denial: be honest with yourself and start with small steps, and you’ll soon be on the road to turning 2020 from a negative into a positive when it comes to your health.